London’s Brexit 2023: Sadiq Khan, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer on the elephant in the room

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Sadiq Khan has called for a ‘pragmatic debate’ about the benefits of being in the European single market - nearly seven years after the Brexit vote.

It hangs over the UK’s economic woes and the cost-of-living crisis, and London’s Labour mayor has called for an end to the “vow of silence” about the damage Brexit has done.

Sadiq Khan also wants a “pragmatic debate” about the benefits of rejoining the single market, something Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out, and something Leave-voting prime minister Rishi Sunak will never consider.

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Mr Khan, in a keynote speech at Mansion House, talked about the need to bring about improve on the current Brexit deal - something with which his party leader does agree.

Both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir referenced Bexit in new year speeches, but Mr Khan called for acknowledgement of the extent of the repercussions of the vote nearly seven years ago.

“No one wants to see a return to the division and deadlock that dominated our body politic for five long years,” he said.

“However, the inescapable truth is that this unnecessarily hard-line version of Brexit is having a detrimental effect on our capital and country – at a time when we can least afford it.

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“We can’t – in all good conscience – pretend that it isn’t hurting our people and harming our businesses.”


It is notable that Leaver Rishi Sunak has not been talking up the success of Brexit.

Heralding his “five promises” to the country on January 4, he mentioned Brexit only once, while discussing investment around research and development in AI, life sciences, quantum, fintech, and green technology.

“Seizing the opportunities of Brexit to ensure our regulatory system is agile and pro-innovation,” he said.

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“Making sure entrepreneurial and fast-growing companies get the finance they need to expand.

“Spreading a culture of creative thinking and doing things differently across every part of the UK.”


Sir Keir Starmer, in his own new-year speech on January 5, used the word “Brexit” twice.

He seized on the Leave campaign’s Take Back Control message, saying he would “turn it from a slogan to a solution” - in doing so immediately turning it back into a slogan.

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“It’s not unreasonable for us to recognise the desire for communities to stand on their own feet. It’s what Take Back Control meant. The control people want is control over their lives and their community,” he said.

“So we will embrace the Take Back Control message. But we’ll turn it from a slogan to a solution. From a catchphrase into change. We will spread control out of Westminster. Devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.

“And we’ll give communities a new right to request powers which go beyond this.

“All this will be in a new ‘Take Back Control’ bill – a centrepiece of our first King’s speech.”

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Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg today, he made it clear that there would be “no going back into EU, no going back into the single market”.

He said there are other options for a closer trading relationship with the EU.

‘Selective amnesia’

London mayor Sadiq Khan has urged politicians to talk honestly about Brexit, saying the “reality is that the City of London is being hit hard by the loss of trade and talent because of Brexit”.

“Ministers seem to have developed selective amnesia when it comes to one of the root causes of our problems,” he said. “Brexit can’t be airbrushed out of history or the consequences wished away.”

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He said that “trying to will Brexit into a success, or simply ignoring its impact, is not a strategy that will deliver prosperity for London or a brighter future for Britain”.

He acknowledged the economic downturn around the world, but said: “Brexit has already reduced our GDP by 5.5%. It has reduced investment by 11% and reduced goods and services trade by 7%. The hard and extreme Brexit we have is a drag on growth, investment, and trade. It’s holding Britain back. Fixing it would mean the recession would be less painful and less prolonged.”

He referenced research by the Centre For Economic Performance, published in December, which found that leaving the European Union added £210 to average household food bills over two years to 2021, costing UK consumers a total of £5.8 billion.

He also referred to a Centre for European Reform estimate that the cost to the Treasury in lost tax revenues due to Brexit is £40bn.

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“So, repairing our relationship with Europe would mean we can better support the NHS,” he said.

“After two years of denial and avoidance, we must now confront the hard truth: Brexit isn’t working. It’s weakened our economy, fractured our union and diminished our reputation. But, crucially, not beyond repair.”

He added: “He need greater alignment with our European neighbours – a shift from this extreme, hard Brexit we have now to a workable version that serves our economy and people. That includes having a pragmatic debate about the benefits of being a part of the customs union and the single market.”

He called for the government to start by addressing London’s labour shortage.

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“The number of businesses in our city experiencing at least one skills shortage has now risen to almost seven in 10. Meanwhile, the number of jobs in our city held by EU-born workers has fallen by over 80,000 – putting huge strain on crucial sectors such as hospitality and construction.

“Devolving powers to London and allowing us to create a regional shortage occupation list would be one way to give businesses the ability to attract and retain talent in the areas they need it most.”

He said the government must rethink the Brexit deal.

“Securing a better Brexit would mean more trade, higher investment and stronger growth. It would mean a boost to both exports and living standards.“

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